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January 25, 2016 Blog 3 min read

Professionals networking at a mixer 

A few of our staff had the opportunity to attend last year’s Great Place to Work® Conference where the closing keynote was Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loan. One of the things that resonated with them was that Bill spends 40 percent of each day on culture-related items. “How much of your day do you spend on culture?” they asked me.

Quite a bit, actually. That tradition of leaders focusing on culture goes all the way back to the days of Frank Moran. It used to take him 30 minutes to get from his car to his office every morning because he always stopped to see how everyone was doing. And that was just the beginning.

When I was a younger staffer, we had a semi-regular lunch date where Frank would pick a topic, and we’d discuss it. One in particular that I recall is, “How do you counsel a staff member thinking of leaving the firm?” The gut reaction is to do everything you can to keep that person, but Frank took a more selfless approach. He talked to me about setting aside my own biases and being objective about what’s best for the person. Not only is this approach better for our firm in the long run, but it also builds trust. There’s a much better chance that a staff member will seek our advice about an opportunity versus just informing us that they’re leaving the firm if they trust we have their best interests in mind. I’ve gone back to that conversation more times than I can count.

Culture is a lens we look through in nearly every decision we make at the firm.

Frank was a great listener. If you went to him with a challenge or an idea, he’d pull out a piece of paper and take notes. Before he offered any advice, he’d make sure he had the whole story. Sometimes he’d take a couple of days to think on it, but he always circled back with his own unique perspective and advice.  He made you feel like you mattered — no matter who you were or how long you’d been at the firm.

Frank was also great at candid feedback. I can remember driving back to the office with him after many a meeting. He loved that drive time and used it to talk about what went well and what could have gone better. He always led with what he perceived his own shortcomings to be, and then he’d tell me what he thought I could improve upon. I always appreciated this because it was feedback in the moment — which was much more powerful than a month or two later when the experience was no longer fresh in my mind.

We have a saying here that leaders create other leaders. I’m the leader I am today because of the lessons I learned from Frank and others over the years. Do I spend 40 percent of my day on culture? Probably. Culture is a lens we look through in nearly every decision we make at the firm. When it comes down to it, the majority of what I do is related to culture in one way or another.

I’m convinced that a large part of the reason Plante Moran has a great culture and is recognized for it so often is that it’s built into our business practices and our decision-making processes. It’s not a fancy document that sits on a shelf that we bring out when it’s time to recruit talent —it’s something that’s modeled by our leaders and lived by our people every day. Things like living our “We Care” philosophy, embodying the Golden Rule, and being relatively jerk-free (nobody is perfect) are built into our business practices and are just a part of our fabric

What about you? How much of your day is spent on company culture? And is there anything you learned from a mentor that shaped the leader you’ve become?